Why brands must be prepared to stand by their inclusive values during Pride and beyond

If you’re going to get involved in a Pride campaign, sadly, you have to be prepared for a backlash. But we need those campaigns more than ever before.  

Homophobic and transphobic attacks are on the rise. Brands are experiencing a backlash from the far right simply for incorporating LGBTQIA people in their marketing campaigns.  Target – which has celebrated Pride in-store for years – faced a backlash from right-wing anti-trans campaign groups simply for stocking products made for LGBTQIA consumers. When their employees were threatened by anti-trans activists, they made the decision to pull the products in order to safeguard store employees. That, in turn, led to a backlash from rights groups, disappointed that Target wasn’t prepared to stand its ground.  

Similarly, Bud Light caved under pressure from anti-trans activists in the wake of a horrific backlash after it sent a case of Bud Light to influencer and rights campaigner, Dylan Mulvaney. It felt it was easier to withdraw support entirely and blame the marketing team for allegedly alienating its core fan base, rather than stand up for those under attack. (Whoever Bud Light’s core audience is, it’s beyond me why the brand couldn’t condemn a transphobic attack on a human being.) 

This is the part that’s hard to swallow. If you’re going to celebrate inclusion, you have to be inclusive. You can’t collaborate with a trans campaigner if you’re not prepared to defend your position if you come under attack. You can’t claim to celebrate diversity if you give in at the first sign of pressure. And if you’re not expecting a backlash, then you probably don’t know this subject well enough to get involved.  

Allyship isn’t easy. Living your values isn’t easy. Nor should it be. If you’re serious about your brand values, you should be prepared to defend them.  

That means predicting the response, practising how you’d respond, and giving your team the confidence to know they’re behaving in the way the brand expects – and will support.  

So many brands have been accused of rainbow-washing, or Pride-washing. And to be honest, I’m not really sure how much putting a rainbow flag in the aisle of a local supermarket does for advancing the rights for LGBTQIA people. But I’m struck by something a wonderful person I know said recently: “If I see a rainbow flag, I feel safer. I know I’m welcome here.” If you take away that feeling at the first sign of trouble, your values aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.  

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